Monthly Archives: June 2014

The CMO Dilemma.


When I do upstream brand work for companies my first deliverable is a brand brief. The brief creates an organizing principle articulating what a company does well and what consumers want most. The brief secret sauce is one claim and three proof planks. Claim and proof — organized proof — build brands.

When large businesses organize, they tend to follow a productized principle. HP has a PC business, a printer business and services business. Yahoo!’s latest organizing principle identifies search, communications and content. AT&T Business Services used to organize by inbound, outbound and data. This is how businesses organize. Organic, essential groupings that are clean, not messy and, likely, tied to line-of-business revenue.

This is not how brands strategy should be organized. What’s The Idea? uses brand planks that are benefit-driven. They may certainly offer a functional spin but always, always point to a consumer benefit. Unfortunately, when budgets are allocated for marketing efforts such as advertising, events and promotion, the money tends to come from functional/product areas and things gets messy. Product managers want product-based comms and the master strategy takes a hit. 

Now more than ever brand strategy needs executive buy-in and C-level champions.  Why are many CMOs unsuccessful? They are tacticians. They’re product pushers not brand builders.


A Tribe Called Share


In the hummus wars there are two brands Sabra and Tribe. The former owned by Pepsi has 30+ points of market share while Tribe has 7%. The former has a name connoting Middle Eastern cuisine and chick peas. The latter has a name that, contextualized, points to a market. Maybe. The former has Pepsi the latter has Ellis Verdi and DeVito-Verdi.

I’ve had farm stand hummus made the night before that made me melt. I’ve had hummus from the fridge with a faded sold by date that made me yearn for processed Kraft slices.

Store bought processed hummus is not a product with great variation in taste from one brand to the next. So branding is important. Hummus sales are growing like a dookie in the U.S. and Tribe wants it unfair share. DeVito-Verdi will put Tribe on the map. The new campaign, which I have not seen, will give them an idea. It will make them a part of the conversation. It may even contain a selling point or two, e.g., healthier for you. But this is a commodity market, and if you want to be part of the conversation, you want Ellis (and Sal).

Marketing executives care about share. They care about their advertising. They also care about public opinion. If you can live a little on the edge and need to ring the cash register, give DeVito-Verdi a try. 

Market share in the hummus wars is about to change. #heardherefirst. Peace.

Democratization of Brand Strategy.


Brand planners don’t just deliver the strategy to a marketing department and agents then go away. They stick around and help nurture and manage the strategy. Of, if they can’t stick around, insure proper hand-off and follow-through. In my consulting practice, a brand strategy consists of 1 claim and 3 proof planks. Clients who give the strategy the account executive nod but are not convinced are a problem. Clients who truly believe the plan differentiates them and delivers max value to company and customer are ready to start. This stage is critical. Half assed buy-in never works.

Once the strategy is in place, it needs to be shared throughout the company. (I’m not talking about sharing the ad campaign, I’m talking strategy.)  It needs to be learned and understood by employees — then practiced. A brand strategy that stays in the marketing dept., by definition, is not a strategy. It’s a law. It’s despotic.

Brand planners who set strategy for brands — upstream brand strategy, that is – need to make sure the tools are in place to insure democratization. (The “deck and done” approach never works.) The tools are: 1. Executive buy-in. 2. Marketing dept. willingness to champion the strategy. 3. Constant and unrelenting brand management. 4. Sales training. 5. New employee orientation. 6. Ad agents (vendors) who know what a brand strategy is and that it is sacrosanct.

Learn, understand, practice. Brand building 401. Peace.


People are the Brand Planner’s Product.


I had an exploratory meeting last week with a brand planner I really admire who heads up an agency I really admire. We discussed what it means to be a classically trained planner (I’m not, she is) and her take was “It’s over-rated.” Old school recruiters care, but it is not what makes a great planner.

Of course one’s personal story is important. Why a brand planner? How a brand planner? I used to think good planners had a special ear; hearing things others didn’t. I still believe that, yet the big difference-maker is in the heart. My planning friend made that clear. The heart allow for empathy, excitement and succor when it comes to listening, learning and understanding. When interviewing targets and segments, these qualities get people to open up.  It is the heart that asks keywords that uncover inner motivations. Big data can then follow, but it doesn’t start with data.

In the advertising world, creatives care about art, ads, ideas. Marketers care about sales, share, effectiveness and brand. Planners, 10 years after the fact, remember people, interviews and insights. People are the planner’s product. Peace.


A tale of two presentations.


I recently looked at two different selling presentations. One was a brand exploratory for a national restaurant chain that has somewhat fallen on hard times. It was a “findings and recommendations” readout for a brand refresh. It took the form of 190 pages in PPT. The second presentation was an agency overview of capabilities in consumer packaged goods. It contained creative, market context and results. This presentation came in at 36 slides and contained some agency credential. Both presos had credentials.

The long presentation started off with the promise of a story. The short one promised capabilities and an overview. Guess which one was more captivating?

The website Medium knows long-form writing can be compelling if done well. The New Yorker and the NY Times concur.

The reason the longer presentation worked better than the short was its approach was narrative-based. The short one was report-based. The former had a serial logic, filled with learning, aha moments and insights. The latter was filled with background, charts, data wrapped in prose and ads. The former led you somewhere with a beginning middle and end. The latter was meant to sell and did so academically.

Storytelling is not markobabble. It may be the pop marketing term of the day, but that’s because it works (again, if done well).  It is what great marketers aspire to.

You can report or you can story. Guess which works better in this data-filled, sales-heavy digiday. Peace.

PS. Speaking of Digiday, they must miss Saya Weissman.


Loss On Investment. (Pt. 2)


I wrote a piece last week about LOI or loss on investment. There used to be only a couple of ways for brands to let consumer’s down: A bad product experience — we all know how that can get tongues wagging — and poor or offensive marketing communication, e.g., an ad. The latter rarely happens because professionals are developing those and approving those. Also, ads are often researched.

Two ways to lose brand investment used to be the case, not today. Brands use way move channels to reach consumers. A poorly laid out website can tork off consumers. A slow or unfulfilling ecommerce experience. Some poorly thought out photos on Facebook accompanied by irate online comments. Digital and social have given consumers and poorly trained employees new hand in communications and it can dilute brand value. Undoing the good work.

Last week a friend emailed me having received a disingenuous email from Amazon. A huge fan who has fed lots of money into the Kindle engine she was pissed because Amazon asked her to take a survey about Kindle usage. She happily agreed but then learned they were just trying to upsell her a Kindle Fire. To add insult, they asked lots of inane questions they should have known having so much data on her. Her rant to me was paragraphs. She’ll get over it, but a petal has fallen off that rose.

The problem in brand management today is twofold. First, you actually have to have a brand strategy to manage. (One idea and three proof planks.) And second, you have to manage vigorously…with all partners, vendors, employees and publics. Find your brand strategy and feed it.



3 Keys To Successful Brand Planning.


In the curated social media world the most shared content tends to have numbers in the headline. In an effort coattail this phenomenon, following are three ingredients to successful brand planningshipdom.

Follow Trends. What is a trend? It’s a pattern. A pattern of behavior, thought and scientific phenomenology. As we watch patterns — first small, then large — we get in touch with what growth is. And we understand growth.

Create Trends. This one is more difficult and some might say egotistical. Fashion designers think this way. Copywriters sometime think this way, coining product memes. Some ad agencies suggest they create trends. It’s a wonderful motivating factor for strategists to project their work as trend-worthy. Aspire to it, but don’t be consumed by it. Trends are fickle. They are also functional (the anthropologist in me might say).

Optimism. Growth is about positive things working together. Stasis is about inaction. Death, about negative forces. Brand planners are best when focusing on the positive. We are in the optimism business. Is it dangerous not to worry the negatives? Nah, that’s someone else’s job. The art of growth, human desire and sunny tomorrows is what we do. Don’t spend an ounce of energy of the dark side of the ledger.



Ad Agencies and Innovation.


Innovation in selling has always been with us. Half driven by science, half driven by art, through the years marketers have looked for more cost-effective, efficient ways to sell product and out-sell competitors. These days the web, digital production and mobile have tossed into the innovation crucible a number of exciting new tools. It’s a new day. An example:

I saw a TV spot last night in which the screen was split into four quadrants — each had a picture of the same young lad with four different style glasses on. If you want to sell glasses, this is a very efficient way. It’s a trial application, a comparison application, and perhaps, should they put prices in each screen, a price/value application. Did someone think of this as a tool in the 80s? Probably. Could they do anything about it then? Elegantly? Nope.

This is what excites me about marketing technology or marketing tech today…the possibilities. And the ideas can come from anywhere. But my bet is that this idea came from an agency? Some shop like Anomaly, Droga5, BBH, Mother, or R/GA. It may have come from an innovation group, but my money is on a shop. Agencies have the most creative people. Innovations groups tend to have facilitators and rent-a-cops.

Agencies know the future is new marketing apps, buildables and technologies in addition to lovely advertising. Agencies, if used properly, are way more valuable than they used to was. A new whoosh is here. Let’s use it. Give your agency the opportunity.



A Great Web Site.


red bull website


I love the Red Bull web site. It’s what web sites ought to be. If good marketing makes you “feel something then do something” Red Bull gets ‘er done. Brian Solis and I agree on many things – and the sorry state of web sites as marketing tools is one of them. Web sites today are an odd admixture of corporate brochure, table of contents and, if lucky, three sliding pictures of product/service schmutz. But Red Bull cares about what customers care about and serves it up with breadth and gusto. The site doesn’t just offer lifestyle content, it delivers the Red Bull culture and experience. No “About Red Bull.” No “Tweetstream.” No cans of product.

I try to sell clients the notion that a web site is all about moving a customer closer to a sale or toward a tighter grip on loyalty. You don’t do this with wireframes and CMSs (content management systems). You do it by motivating people with interesting, customer-inspiring content and story. Magnetic, shareable story…aligned with your product or service. Hopefully, all organized under a brand strategy rubric: one idea, 3 proof planks. (E.g., Taco Bell’s “Live Mas” is an idea; I’m just not sure of its planks.) Taco Bell might borrow a page from the Red Bull playbook.

So let’s start to focus our web sites on the brand and customer story. Not SEO keywords, not the wireframe, not the 22 clickables above the fold. Find your idea, find your planks and custies will find you.